In a move that I suspect a lot of women (and men) would strongly support, the Obama administration is trying to figure out whether the health care bill can be used to force insurance companies to offer free birth control and other contraceptive services. The law says that these companies must offer “preventive health services,” and a panel of outside experts has been convened to identify specific services that must be offered for women.
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Because about half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, many women’s health advocates have argued that contraceptives definitely fall into this category. There are many obvious benefits: reducing infant mortality, pregnancy complications, and maternal and child health, and most of all, women are able to control their own sexuality without having to juggle cost. The Department of Health and Human Services expects to release guidelines by August 1.
In another revolutionary move, legislators may require “annual checkups and health assessments known as well-woman visits; screening for domestic violence, heart disease and breast and cervical cancer; and doctor visits for women intending to become pregnant.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics supported the move, saying, “Adolescents and adult women need to have access to the full menu of contraceptive methods without cost-sharing.” The move is supported by a host of nonprofit organizations, including the ACLU, NARAL, the National Women’s Law Center, and the March of Dimes.
It’s clear that classifying birth control as a form of preventive care would not only improve lives, it would save money. And it would also be a giant step for women’s rights. Brand-name birth control can cost as much as $60 a month, which can be an insurmountable obstacle. It would be extraordinary, but also long overdue, for the government to require insurers to provide these essential services for free.
Photo from nateOne via Flickr.